HMHS Britannic
Overview
HMHS
Ship prefix
A ship prefix is a combination of letters, usually abbreviations, used in front of the name of a civilian or naval ship.Prefixes for civilian vessels may either identify the type of propulsion, such as "SS" for steamship, or purpose, such as "RV" for research vessel. Civilian prefixes are often...

 Britannic was the third and largest of the White Star Line
White Star Line
The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company or White Star Line of Boston Packets, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping company, today most famous for its ill-fated vessel, the RMS Titanic, and the World War I loss of Titanics sister ship Britannic...

. She was the sister ship of and , and was intended to enter service as a transatlantic passenger liner. She was launched just before the start of the First World War and was laid up at her builders in Belfast for many months before being put to use as a hospital ship
Hospital ship
A hospital ship is a ship designated for primary function as a floating medical treatment facility or hospital; most are operated by the military forces of various countries, as they are intended to be used in or near war zones....

 in 1915. In that role she struck a mine
Naval mine
A naval mine is a self-contained explosive device placed in water to destroy surface ships or submarines. Unlike depth charges, mines are deposited and left to wait until they are triggered by the approach of, or contact with, an enemy vessel...

 off the Greek island of Kea
Kea (island)
Kea , also known as Gia or Tzia , Zea, and, in Antiquity, Keos , is an island of the Cyclades archipelago, in the Aegean Sea, in Greece. Kea is part of the Kea-Kythnos peripheral unit. Its capital, Ioulis, is inland at a high altitude and is considered quite picturesque...

, in the Kea Channel
Kea Channel
The Kea Channel, is a passage of water in the Aegean Sea, lying between the islands of Makronisi and Kea, just off Cape Sounion on the mainland of Greece. It is the location of the wreck of HMHS Britannic, which was sunk on November 21, 1916....

 on 21 November 1916, and sank with the loss of 30 lives.
Following the loss of the Titanic and the subsequent inquiries, several design changes were made to the remaining Olympic-class liners.
Encyclopedia
HMHS
Ship prefix
A ship prefix is a combination of letters, usually abbreviations, used in front of the name of a civilian or naval ship.Prefixes for civilian vessels may either identify the type of propulsion, such as "SS" for steamship, or purpose, such as "RV" for research vessel. Civilian prefixes are often...

 Britannic was the third and largest of the White Star Line
White Star Line
The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company or White Star Line of Boston Packets, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping company, today most famous for its ill-fated vessel, the RMS Titanic, and the World War I loss of Titanics sister ship Britannic...

. She was the sister ship of and , and was intended to enter service as a transatlantic passenger liner. She was launched just before the start of the First World War and was laid up at her builders in Belfast for many months before being put to use as a hospital ship
Hospital ship
A hospital ship is a ship designated for primary function as a floating medical treatment facility or hospital; most are operated by the military forces of various countries, as they are intended to be used in or near war zones....

 in 1915. In that role she struck a mine
Naval mine
A naval mine is a self-contained explosive device placed in water to destroy surface ships or submarines. Unlike depth charges, mines are deposited and left to wait until they are triggered by the approach of, or contact with, an enemy vessel...

 off the Greek island of Kea
Kea (island)
Kea , also known as Gia or Tzia , Zea, and, in Antiquity, Keos , is an island of the Cyclades archipelago, in the Aegean Sea, in Greece. Kea is part of the Kea-Kythnos peripheral unit. Its capital, Ioulis, is inland at a high altitude and is considered quite picturesque...

, in the Kea Channel
Kea Channel
The Kea Channel, is a passage of water in the Aegean Sea, lying between the islands of Makronisi and Kea, just off Cape Sounion on the mainland of Greece. It is the location of the wreck of HMHS Britannic, which was sunk on November 21, 1916....

 on 21 November 1916, and sank with the loss of 30 lives.

Post-Titanic design changes

Following the loss of the Titanic and the subsequent inquiries, several design changes were made to the remaining Olympic-class liners. With Britannic, these changes were made before launching (Olympic was refitted on her return to Harland and Wolff
Harland and Wolff
Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries is a Northern Irish heavy industrial company, specialising in shipbuilding and offshore construction, located in Belfast, Northern Ireland....

). The main changes included the introduction of a double hull along the engine and boiler rooms and raising six out of the 15 watertight bulkheads up to 'B' Deck.

A more obvious external change was the fitting of large crane
Crane (machine)
A crane is a type of machine, generally equipped with a hoist, wire ropes or chains, and sheaves, that can be used both to lift and lower materials and to move them horizontally. It uses one or more simple machines to create mechanical advantage and thus move loads beyond the normal capability of...

-like davit
Davit
A davit is a structure, usually made of steel, which is used to lower things over an edge of a long drop off such as lowering a maintenance trapeze down a building or launching a lifeboat over the side of a ship....

s, each capable of holding six lifeboats
Lifeboat (shipboard)
A lifeboat is a small, rigid or inflatable watercraft carried for emergency evacuation in the event of a disaster aboard ship. In the military, a lifeboat may be referred to as a whaleboat, dinghy, or gig. The ship's tenders of cruise ships often double as lifeboats. Recreational sailors sometimes...

. Additional lifeboats could be stored within reach of the davits on the deckhouse roof, and in an emergency the davits could even reach lifeboats on the other side of the vessel. The aim of this design was to enable all the lifeboats to be launched, even if the ship developed a list that would normally prevent lifeboats being launched on the side opposite to the list. However, several of these davits were placed abreast of funnels, defeating that purpose. Similar davits were not fitted to Olympic.

Britannics hull was also 2 foot (0.6096 m) wider than her predecessors following the redesign after the loss of Titanic. To keep to a 21 knots service speed, the shipyard installed a larger turbine rated for 18000 hp—versus Olympics and Titanics 16000 hp—to compensate for the vessel's extra width.

Although the White Star Line always denied it, most sources say that the ship was supposed to be named
Gigantic.

Construction

Britannic was launched on 26 February 1914 at the Harland and Wolff
Harland and Wolff
Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries is a Northern Irish heavy industrial company, specialising in shipbuilding and offshore construction, located in Belfast, Northern Ireland....

 shipyard in Belfast
Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

 and fitting out began. She had been constructed in the same gantry slip used to build RMS
Olympic. Reusing Olympics space saved the shipyard time and money in clearing out a third slip similar in size to those used for Olympic and Titanic. In August 1914, before Britannic could commence transatlantic service between New York and Southampton
Southampton
Southampton is the largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England, and is situated south-west of London and north-west of Portsmouth. Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest...

, the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 began. Immediately, all shipyard
Shipyard
Shipyards and dockyards are places which repair and build ships. These can be yachts, military vessels, cruise liners or other cargo or passenger ships. Dockyards are sometimes more associated with maintenance and basing activities than shipyards, which are sometimes associated more with initial...

s with Admiralty
Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

 contracts were given top priority to use available raw materials. All civil contracts (including the
Britannic) were slowed down. The military authorities requisitioned a large number of ships as armed merchant cruisers or for troop transport. The Admiralty was paying the companies for the use of their vessels but the risk of losing a ship during military operations was high. However, the big ocean liners were not taken for military use, as smaller vessels were much easier to operate. White Star decided to withdraw RMS Olympic from service until the danger had passed. RMS Olympic returned to Belfast on 3 November 1914, while work on her sister continued slowly. All this would change in 1915.

Requisitioning

The need for increased tonnage grew critical as military operations extended to the Eastern Mediterranean
Eastern Mediterranean
The Eastern Mediterranean is a term that denotes the countries geographically to the east of the Mediterranean Sea. This region is also known as Greater Syria or the Levant....

. In May 1915,
Britannic completed mooring trials of her engines, and was prepared for emergency entrance into service with as little as four weeks notice. The same month also saw the first major loss of a civilian ocean vessel when the Cunard
Cunard Line
Cunard Line is a British-American owned shipping company based at Carnival House in Southampton, England and operated by Carnival UK. It has been a leading operator of passenger ships on the North Atlantic for over a century...

 liner was torpedoed near the Irish coast by SM
U-20.

The following month, the British Admiralty decided to use recently requisitioned passenger liners as troop transports during the Gallipoli
Gallipoli
The Gallipoli peninsula is located in Turkish Thrace , the European part of Turkey, with the Aegean Sea to the west and the Dardanelles straits to the east. Gallipoli derives its name from the Greek "Καλλίπολις" , meaning "Beautiful City"...

 campaign (also called the
Dardanelles
Dardanelles
The Dardanelles , formerly known as the Hellespont, is a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It is one of the Turkish Straits, along with its counterpart the Bosphorus. It is located at approximately...

 service). The first to sail were Cunard's and . As the Gallipoli landings proved to be disastrous and the casualties mounted, the need for large hospital ship
Hospital ship
A hospital ship is a ship designated for primary function as a floating medical treatment facility or hospital; most are operated by the military forces of various countries, as they are intended to be used in or near war zones....

s for treatment and evacuation of wounded became evident. RMS
Aquitania was diverted to hospital ship duties in August (her place as a troop transport would be taken by the RMS Olympic in September) and on 13 November 1915, Britannic was requisitioned as a hospital ship from her storage location at Belfast. Repainted white with large red crosses and a horizontal green stripe, she was renamed HMHS (His Majesty's Hospital Ship) Britannic and placed under the command of Captain
Captain (naval)
Captain is the name most often given in English-speaking navies to the rank corresponding to command of the largest ships. The NATO rank code is OF-5, equivalent to an army full colonel....

 Charles A. Bartlett (1868–1945).

Last voyage

After completing five successful voyages to the Middle Eastern theatre
Middle Eastern theatre of World War I
The Middle Eastern theatre of World War I was the scene of action between 29 October 1914, and 30 October 1918. The combatants were the Ottoman Empire, with some assistance from the other Central Powers, and primarily the British and the Russians among the Allies of World War I...

 and back to the United Kingdom transporting the sick and wounded,
Britannic departed Southampton for Lemnos
Lemnos
Lemnos is an island of Greece in the northern part of the Aegean Sea. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within the Lemnos peripheral unit, which is part of the North Aegean Periphery. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Myrina...

 at 14:23 on 12 November 1916, her sixth voyage to the Mediterranean Sea. The
Britannic passed Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

 around midnight on 15 November and arrived at Naples
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 on the morning of 17 November for her usual coaling and water refuelling stop, completing the first stage of her mission.

A storm kept the ship at Naples until Sunday afternoon, when Captain Bartlett decided to take advantage of a brief break in the weather and continue on. The seas rose once again just as
Britannic left the port but by next morning the storms died and the ship passed the Strait of Messina
Strait of Messina
The Strait of Messina is the narrow passage between the eastern tip of Sicily and the southern tip of Calabria in the south of Italy. It connects the Tyrrhenian Sea with the Ionian Sea, within the central Mediterranean...

 without problems. Cape Matapan
Cape Matapan
Cape Tainaron , also known as Cape Matapan , is situated at the end of the Mani, Laconia, Greece. Cape Matapan is the southernmost point of mainland Greece. It separates the Messenian Gulf in the west from the Laconian Gulf in the east.-History:...

 was rounded during the first hours of Tuesday, 21 November. By the morning
Britannic was steaming at full speed into the Kea Channel
Kea (island)
Kea , also known as Gia or Tzia , Zea, and, in Antiquity, Keos , is an island of the Cyclades archipelago, in the Aegean Sea, in Greece. Kea is part of the Kea-Kythnos peripheral unit. Its capital, Ioulis, is inland at a high altitude and is considered quite picturesque...

, between Cape Sounion
Sounion
Cape Sounion is a promontory located SSE of Athens, at the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula in Greece.Cape Sounion is noted as the site of ruins of an ancient...

 (the southernmost point of Attica
Attica
Attica is a historical region of Greece, containing Athens, the current capital of Greece. The historical region is centered on the Attic peninsula, which projects into the Aegean Sea...

, the prefecture that includes Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

) and the island of Kea
Kea (island)
Kea , also known as Gia or Tzia , Zea, and, in Antiquity, Keos , is an island of the Cyclades archipelago, in the Aegean Sea, in Greece. Kea is part of the Kea-Kythnos peripheral unit. Its capital, Ioulis, is inland at a high altitude and is considered quite picturesque...

.

Explosion

At 8:12 AM on 21 November 1916 a loud explosion shook the ship. The cause, whether it was a torpedo
Torpedo
The modern torpedo is a self-propelled missile weapon with an explosive warhead, launched above or below the water surface, propelled underwater towards a target, and designed to detonate either on contact with it or in proximity to it.The term torpedo was originally employed for...

 from an enemy submarine or a mine, was not apparent. The reaction in the dining room was immediate; doctors and nurses left instantly for their posts. Not everybody reacted the same way, as further aft
Aft
Aft, in naval terminology, is an adjective or adverb meaning, towards the stern of the ship, when the frame of reference is within the ship. Example: "Able Seaman Smith; lay aft!". Or; "What's happening aft?"...

 the power of the explosion was less felt and many thought the ship had hit a smaller boat. Captain Bartlett and Chief Officer Hume were on the bridge
Bridge
A bridge is a structure built to span physical obstacles such as a body of water, valley, or road, for the purpose of providing passage over the obstacle...

 at the time, and the gravity of the situation was soon evident. The first reports were frightening. The explosion had taken place on the starboard side between holds two and three, but the force of the explosion had damaged the watertight bulkhead
Bulkhead (partition)
A bulkhead is an upright wall within the hull of a ship or within the fuselage of an airplane. Other kinds of partition elements within a ship are decks and deckheads.-Etymology:...

 between hold one and the forepeak
Forecastle
Forecastle refers to the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters...

. That meant that the first four watertight compartments were filling rapidly with water. To make things worse, the firemen's tunnel connecting the firemen's quarters in the bow with boiler room six had also been seriously damaged and water was flowing into that boiler room.

Bartlett ordered the watertight doors closed, sent a distress signal
Distress signal
A distress signal is an internationally recognized means for obtaining help. Distress signals take the form of or are commonly made by using radio signals, displaying a visually detected item or illumination, or making an audible sound, from a distance....

 and ordered the crew to prepare the lifeboats. Unfortunately, another surprise was waiting. Along with the damaged watertight door of the firemen's tunnel, the watertight door between boiler rooms six and five also failed to close properly for an unknown reason. Now water was flowing further aft into boiler room five. The Britannic had reached her flooding limit. She could stay afloat (motionless) with her first six watertight compartments flooded and had five watertight bulkheads rising all the way up to B-deck. Those measures were taken after the Titanic disaster (Titanic could float with her first four compartments flooded but the bulkheads rose only as high as E-deck). Luckily, the next crucial bulkhead between boiler rooms five and four and its door were undamaged and should have guaranteed the survival of the ship. However, there was something else that probably sealed Britannic's fate: the open porthole
Porthole
A porthole is a generally circular, window used on the hull of ships to admit light and air. Porthole is actually an abbreviated term for "port hole window"...

s of the lower decks. The nurses had opened most of those portholes to ventilate the wards. As the ship's list increased, water reached this level and began to enter aft from the bulkhead between boiler rooms five and four. With more than six compartments flooded, the
Britannic could not stay afloat.

Evacuation

On the bridge, Captain Bartlett was trying to save his vessel. Only two minutes after the blast, boiler rooms five and six had to be evacuated. In about ten minutes the
Britannic was roughly in the same condition the Titanic was one hour after the collision with the iceberg
Iceberg
An iceberg is a large piece of ice from freshwater that has broken off from a snow-formed glacier or ice shelf and is floating in open water. It may subsequently become frozen into pack ice...

. Fifteen minutes after the ship was struck the open porthole
Porthole
A porthole is a generally circular, window used on the hull of ships to admit light and air. Porthole is actually an abbreviated term for "port hole window"...

s on E-deck were underwater. Water also entered the ship's aft section from the bulkhead between boiler rooms five and four. The
Britannic quickly developed a serious list to starboard. To his right Bartlett saw the shores of Kea, about three miles (5 km) away. He decided to make a last desperate effort to beach the ship. This was not an easy task because of the combined effect of the list and the weight of the rudder
Rudder
A rudder is a device used to steer a ship, boat, submarine, hovercraft, aircraft or other conveyance that moves through a medium . On an aircraft the rudder is used primarily to counter adverse yaw and p-factor and is not the primary control used to turn the airplane...

. The steering gear was unable to respond properly but by using the propellers alone (giving more power to the port shaft) Britannic slowly started to turn right.

Simultaneously, on the boat deck the crewmembers were preparing the lifeboats. Some of the boats were immediately rushed by a group of stewards
Chief Steward
A chief steward is the senior unlicensed crew member working in the Steward's Department of a ship. Since there is no purser on most ships in the United States Merchant Marine, the steward is the senior person in the department, whence its name...

 and some sailors, who had started to panic. An unknown officer kept his nerve and persuaded his sailors to get out and stand by their positions near the boat stations. He decided to leave the stewards on the lifeboats as they were responsible for starting the panic and he did not want them in his way during the evacuation. However, he left one of the crew with them in order to take charge of the lifeboat after leaving the ship. After this episode, all the sailors under his command remained at their posts until the last moment. As no RAMC
Royal Army Medical Corps
The Royal Army Medical Corps is a specialist corps in the British Army which provides medical services to all British Army personnel and their families in war and in peace...

 personnel were near this boat station at that time, the Officer started to lower the boats, but when he saw that the ship's engines were still running, he stopped them within six feet (2 m) of the water and waited for orders from the bridge. The occupants of the lifeboats did not take this decision very well and started cursing. Shortly after this, orders finally arrived: no lifeboats should be launched, as the Captain had decided to beach the Britannic.

Assistant Commander Harry William Dyke was making the arrangements for the lowering of the lifeboats from the aft davits of the starboard boat deck when he spotted a group of firemen who had taken a lifeboat from the poop deck
Poop deck
In naval architecture, a poop deck is a deck that forms the roof of a cabin built in the rear, or "aft", part of the superstructure of a ship.The name originates from the French word for stern, la poupe, from Latin puppis...

 without authorisation and had not filled it to maximum capacity. Dyke ordered them to pick up some of the men who had already jumped into the water.

At 08:30, two lifeboats from the boat station assigned to Third Officer David Laws were lowered without his knowledge through the use of the automatic release gear. Those two lifeboats dropped some 6 feet (1.8 m) into the water and hit the water violently. The two lifeboats soon drifted into the still-turning propellers, which were almost out of the water by now. As they reached the turning blades, both lifeboats, together with their occupants, were torn to pieces. Word of the carnage arrived on the bridge, and Captain Bartlett, seeing that water was entering more rapidly as Britannic was moving and that there was a risk of more victims, gave the order to stop the engines. The propellers stopped turning the moment a third lifeboat was about to be reduced to splinters. RAMC occupants of this boat pushed against the blades and got away from them safely.

Final moments

The Captain officially ordered the crew to lower the boats and at 08:35, he gave the order to abandon ship. The forward set of port side davits soon became useless. The unknown officer had already launched his two lifeboats and managed to launch rapidly one more boat from the after set of portside davits. He then started to prepare the motor launch when First Officer Oliver came with orders from the Captain. Bartlett had ordered Oliver to get in the motor launch and use its speed to pick up survivors from the smashed lifeboats. Then he was to take charge of the small fleet of lifeboats formed around the sinking Britannic. After launching the motor launch with Oliver, the unknown officer filled another lifeboat with seventy-five men and launched it with great difficulty because the port side was now very high from the surface because of the list to starboard. By 08:45, the list to starboard was so great that no davits were operable. The unknown officer with six sailors decided to move to mid-ship on the boat deck to throw overboard-collapsible rafts and deck chairs from the starboard side. About thirty RAMC personnel who were still left on the ship followed them. As he was about to order these men to jump then give his final report to the Captain, the unknown officer spotted Sixth officer Welch and a few sailors near one of the smaller lifeboats on the starboard side. They were trying to lift the boat but they had not enough men. Quickly, the unknown officer ordered his group of forty men to assist the Sixth officer. Together they managed to lift it, load it with men, then launch it safely.

At 09:00, Bartlett sounded one last blast on the whistle then just walked into the water, which had already reached the bridge. He swam to a collapsible boat and began to co-ordinate the rescue operations. The whistle blow was the final signal for the ship's engineers (commanded by Chief Engineer Robert Fleming) who, like their heroic colleagues on the Titanic, had remained at their posts until the last possible moment. They escaped via the staircase into funnel #4, which ventilated the engine room.

The
Britannic rolled over onto her starboard side and the funnels began collapsing. Violet Jessop
Violet Jessop
Violet Constance Jessop was an ocean liner stewardess and nurse who achieved fame by surviving the disastrous sinkings of sister ships RMS Titanic and HMHS Britannic in 1912 and 1916 respectively...

 (who was also one of the survivors of
Britannic's sister-ship Titanic, as well as the third sister, Olympic, when she collided with HMS Hawke), described the last seconds: "She dipped her head a little, then a little lower and still lower. All the deck machinery fell into the sea like a child's toys. Then she took a fearful plunge, her stern rearing hundreds of feet into the air until with a final roar, she disappeared into the depths, the noise of her going resounding through the water with undreamt-of violence....” It was 09:07, only fifty-five minutes after the explosion. The Britannic was the largest ship lost during the First World War.

Rescue

The first to arrive on the scene were the Greek fishermen from Kea on their Caïque
Caïque
A caïque , is the term for a traditional fishing boat usually found among the waters of the Ionian or Aegean Seas, and also a light skiff used on the Bosporus. It is traditionally a small wooden trading vessel, brightly painted and rigged for sail...

, who picked up many men from the water. One of them, Francesco Psilas, was later paid £4 by the Admiralty for his services. At 10:00, HMS
Scourge sighted the first lifeboats and ten minutes later stopped and picked up 339 survivors. HMS Heroic had arrived some minutes earlier and picked up 494. Some 150 had made it to Korissia
Korissia
Korissia is a former municipality on the island of Corfu, Ionian Islands, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Corfu, of which it is a municipal unit. It is in the southern part of the island. It has a land area of 27.675 km². Its population was 5,206 at...

 (a community on Kea), where surviving doctors and nurses from the
Britannic were trying to save the horribly mutilated men, using aprons and pieces of lifebelts
Lifejacket
A lifejacket is a type of personal flotation device designed to keep your airway clear of the water whether the wearer is conscious or unconscious...

 to make dressings. A little barren quayside served as their operating room. Although the motor launches were quick to transport the wounded to Korissia, the first lifeboat arrived there some two hours later because of the strong current and their heavy load. It was the lifeboat of Sixth Officer Welch and the unknown Officer. The latter was able to speak some French and managed to talk with one of the local villagers, obtaining some bottles of brandy
Brandy
Brandy is a spirit produced by distilling wine. Brandy generally contains 35%–60% alcohol by volume and is typically taken as an after-dinner drink...

 and some bread for the injured.

The inhabitants of Korissia were deeply moved by the suffering of the wounded. They offered all possible assistance to the survivors and hosted many of them in their houses while waiting for the rescue ships. Violet Jessop approached one of the wounded. "An elderly man, in an RAMC uniform with a row of ribbons on his breast, lay motionless on the ground. Part of his thigh was gone and one foot missing; the grey-green hue of his face contrasted with his fine physique. I took his hand and looked at him. After a long time, he opened his eyes and said: 'I'm dying'. There seemed nothing to disprove him yet I involuntarily replied: 'No, you are not going to die, because I've just been praying for you to live'. He gave me a beautiful smile . . . That man lived and sang jolly songs for us on Christmas Day.”

The Scourge and Heroic had no deck space for more survivors and they left for Piraeus
Piraeus
Piraeus is a city in the region of Attica, Greece. Piraeus is located within the Athens Urban Area, 12 km southwest from its city center , and lies along the east coast of the Saronic Gulf....

 signalling the presence of those left at Korissia. Luckily, HMS
Foxhound arrived at 11:45 and, after sweeping the area, anchored in the small port at 13:00 to offer medical assistance and take onboard the remaining survivors. At 14:00 arrived the light cruiser . The Foxhound departed for Piraeus at 14:15 while the Foresight remained to arrange the burial on Kea of Sergeant
Sergeant
Sergeant is a rank used in some form by most militaries, police forces, and other uniformed organizations around the world. Its origins are the Latin serviens, "one who serves", through the French term Sergent....

 W. Sharpe, who had died of his injuries. Another two men died on the
Heroic and one on the French tug
Tugboat
A tugboat is a boat that maneuvers vessels by pushing or towing them. Tugs move vessels that either should not move themselves, such as ships in a crowded harbor or a narrow canal,or those that cannot move by themselves, such as barges, disabled ships, or oil platforms. Tugboats are powerful for...

 
Goliath. The three were buried with military honours in the British cemetery at Piraeus. The last fatality was G. Honeycott, who died at the Russian Hospital at Piraeus shortly after the funerals.

1,036 people were saved. Thirty men lost their lives in the disaster but only five were buried. The others were left in the water and their memory is honoured in memorials in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki , historically also known as Thessalonica, Salonika or Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the region of Central Macedonia as well as the capital of the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace...

 and London. Another twenty-four men were injured. The ship carried no patients. The survivors were hosted in the warships that were anchored at the port of Piraeus. However, the nurses and the officers were hosted in separate hotels at Phaleron. Many Greek citizens and officials attended the funerals.

Wreck

The wreck of HMHS Britannic is at 37°42′05"N 24°17′02"E in about 400 ft (120 m) of water. It was first discovered and explored by Jacques Cousteau
Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a French naval officer, explorer, ecologist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water...

 in 1975. In 1976, he expressed the opinion that the ship had been sunk by a single torpedo, basing this opinion on the damage to her plates. The giant liner lies on her starboard side hiding the zone of impact with the mine. There is a huge hole just beneath the forward well deck. The bow
Bow (ship)
The bow is a nautical term that refers to the forward part of the hull of a ship or boat, the point that is most forward when the vessel is underway. Both of the adjectives fore and forward mean towards the bow...

 is attached to the rest of the hull only by some pieces of the B-deck. This is the result of the massive explosion that destroyed the entire part of the keel between bulkheads two and three and of the force of impact with the seabed. The bow is heavily deformed as the ship hit the seabed before the total length of the 882 feet 9 inches (269 m) liner was completely submerged, as she sank in a depth of only 400 feet (121.9 m) of water. Despite this, the crew's quarters in the forecastle were found to be in good shape with many details still visible. The holds were found empty. The forecastle machinery and the two cargo cranes in the forward well deck are still there and are well preserved. The foremast is bent and lies on the sea floor near the wreck with the crow's nest still attached on it. The bell was not found. Funnel #1 was found a few metres from the Boat Deck. The other three funnels were found in the debris field (located off the stern). The wreck lies in shallow enough water that scuba
Scuba diving
Scuba diving is a form of underwater diving in which a diver uses a scuba set to breathe underwater....

 divers trained in technical diving
Technical diving
Technical diving is a form of scuba diving that exceeds the scope of recreational diving...

 can explore it, but it is listed as a British war grave
War grave
A war grave is a burial place for soldiers or civilians who died during military campaigns or operations. The term does not only apply to graves: ships sunk during wartime are often considered to be war graves, as are military aircraft that crash into water...

 and any expedition must be approved by both the British and Greek governments.

In mid-1995, during an expedition filmed by NOVA
NOVA (TV series)
Nova is a popular science television series from the U.S. produced by WGBH Boston. It can be seen on the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States, and in more than 100 other countries...

, Dr. Robert Ballard
Robert Ballard
Robert Duane Ballard is a former United States Navy officer and a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island who is most noted for his work in underwater archaeology. He is most famous for the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989,...

 visited the wreck, using advanced side-scan sonar. Images were obtained from remotely controlled vehicles, but the wreck was not penetrated. Ballard succeeded in locating all the ship's funnels, which proved to be in surprisingly good condition. Attempts to find mine anchors failed.

In August 1996, the wreck of HMHS Britannic became available for sale and was bought by maritime historian Simon Mills, who has written two books about the ship: Britannic-The Last Titan, and Hostage To Fortune. When Simon Mills was asked if he had all the money and support needed, what would his ideal vision be for the wreck of Britannic, he replied: "That's simple—to leave it as it is!"

In November 1997, an international team of divers led by Kevin Gurr used open-circuit trimix diving techniques to visit and film the wreck in the newly available DV
DV
DV is a format for the digital recording and playing back of digital video. The DV codec was launched in 1995 with joint efforts of leading producers of video camcorders....

 digital video format. Kevin Gurr, Alan Wright, John Thornton, Dan Burton, Uffe Eriksson, Ingemar Lundgren, Richard Lundgren, Dave Thompson, Alexander Sotiriou, Kirk Kavalaris, Kevin Denlay, Tristan Cope, Miria Denlay, Gary Sharp, Ian Fuller, and Manthos Sotiriou participated in the project. Vangelis Sotiriou provided general support.

In September 1998, a team of divers led by Nick Hope made a major expedition to the wreck. Many of the divers who participated in 'Britannic 98' were members of the deep wreck-diving team, 'The Starfish Enterprise'. Using diver propulsion vehicles (DPVs)
Diver Propulsion Vehicle
A diver propulsion vehicle is an item of diving equipment used by scuba and rebreather divers to increase range underwater...

, the team made more man-dives to the wreck and produced more images than ever before, including video of four telegraphs, a helm and a telemotor on the captain's bridge. John Chatterton
John Chatterton
John Chatterton is one of the world’s most accomplished and well known wreck divers. Together with Richie Kohler, he was one of the co-hosts for the History Channel’s Deep Sea Detectives where they have completed work on 57 episodes of this successful series...

 became the first diver to visit Britannic using a closed-circuit rebreather
Rebreather
A rebreather is a type of breathing set that provides a breathing gas containing oxygen and recycled exhaled gas. This recycling reduces the volume of breathing gas used, making a rebreather lighter and more compact than an open-circuit breathing set for the same duration in environments where...

, but his efforts to penetrate the firemen's tunnel using a rebreather were hampered by the poor reliability. Christina Campbell became the first woman to dive the wreck. The expedition was regarded as one of the biggest wreck diving projects ever undertaken.
Time magazine
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

 published images shot during the expedition. The expedition inspired many others to explore the wreck, including Carl Spencer, who mounted his own expedition in 2003.

The principal divers were: Nick Hope (UK), Leigh Bishop
Leigh Bishop
Leigh Bishop is an explorer and deep sea diver known for his deep shipwreck exploration and still underwater photography.-Background:...

 (UK), John Chatterton
John Chatterton
John Chatterton is one of the world’s most accomplished and well known wreck divers. Together with Richie Kohler, he was one of the co-hosts for the History Channel’s Deep Sea Detectives where they have completed work on 57 episodes of this successful series...

 (US), Christina Campbell (UK), Geraint Ffoulkes-Jones (UK), Chris Hutchison (UK), Bob Hughes (UK), Innes McCartney (UK), Jamie Powell (UK), Rob Royle (UK), Dave Wilkins (UK), John Yurga (US). The support team, many of whom also dived the wreck: Greg Buxton (UK), Dan Crowell (US), Kevin Emans (UK), Hagen Martin (UK), Greg Mossfeldt (Canada), Kostas Nizamis (Greece), Derek Palmer (UK), Marinos Pittas (Greece), Jen Samulski (US), Gregoris Theodoris (Greece), Andrea Webb (UK), Becky Williams (UK).

In 1999, GUE
Global Underwater Explorers
Global Underwater Explorers is a scuba diving organization that provides education within recreational, technical and cave diving. It is a not-for-profit, membership organization, based in High Springs, Florida, United States....

, divers acclimated to cave diving
Cave diving
Cave diving is a type of technical diving in which specialized equipment is used to enable the exploration of caves which are at least partially filled with water. In the United Kingdom it is an extension of the more common sport of caving, and in the United States an extension of the more common...

 and ocean discovery, led the first dive expedition to include extensive penetration
Penetration diving
Penetration diving or no clear surface diving is a type of diving where the scuba diver enters a space from which there is no direct, purely vertical ascent to the safety of breathable air of the atmosphere at the surface...

 into Britannic. Video of the expedition was broadcast by National Geographic, BBC, the History Channel, and the Discovery Channel.

In 2003, an expedition led by Carl Spencer used advanced diving technology to send scuba divers into the wreck. Spencer's expedition is regarded as the expedition that answered the important questions, why the ship sank and what made her sink so fast. Their most significant finding was that several watertight doors were open. It has been suggested that this was because the mine strike coincided with the change of watches. Alternatively, the explosion may have distorted the doorframes. A number of mine anchors were located off the wreck by Sonar expert Bill Smith, confirming the German records of U-73 that Britannic was sunk by a single mine and the damage was compounded by open portholes and watertight doors. Spencer's expedition was broadcast extensively across the world for many years by National Geographic and the UK's Channel 5.

In 2006, an expedition, funded and filmed by the History Channel, brought together thirteen of the world's best wreck divers
Wreck diving
Wreck diving is a type of recreational diving where shipwrecks are explored. Although most wreck dive sites are at shipwrecks, there is an increasing trend to scuttle retired ships to create artificial reef sites...

 to help determine what caused the quick sinking of the Britannic. Setting sail on 17 September in a diving boat converted from a fishing boat for this mission, the crew dived and explored the sunken ship. After days of preparation, the wreck was explored by divers John Chatterton
John Chatterton
John Chatterton is one of the world’s most accomplished and well known wreck divers. Together with Richie Kohler, he was one of the co-hosts for the History Channel’s Deep Sea Detectives where they have completed work on 57 episodes of this successful series...

 and Richie Kohler
Richie kohler
Richie Kohler is an experienced technical wreck diver and shipwreck historian who has been diving and exploring shipwrecks since 1980. Together with John Chatterton, Kohler was one of the co-hosts of the television series Deep Sea Detectives on the History Channel and is also a consultant for the...

. However, time was cut short when silt was kicked-up, causing zero visibility conditions, and the two divers narrowly escaped with their lives. John Chatterton's rebreather
Rebreather
A rebreather is a type of breathing set that provides a breathing gas containing oxygen and recycled exhaled gas. This recycling reduces the volume of breathing gas used, making a rebreather lighter and more compact than an open-circuit breathing set for the same duration in environments where...

 failed whilst he was still deep inside the wreck. One last dive was to be attempted on Britannics boiler room, but it was discovered that photographing this far inside the wreck would lead to breaking the rules of a permit issued by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities
Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities
The Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities is a department within the Greek Ministry of Culture. Katerina Delaporta is the director of this agency. Permission from the EUA is needed to conduct surveys and photography dives on architectural structures, such as shipwrecks, in the Greek waters....

, a department within the Greek Ministry of Culture. Partly because of a barrier in languages, a last minute plea was turned down by the department. The expedition was unable to determine the cause of the rapid sinking, but hours of footage were filmed and important data was documented. Underwater Antiquities later recognized the importance of this mission and has since extended an invitation to revisit the wreck under less stringent rules.

During this expedition, Chatterton and Kohler found a bulb shape in her expansion joint. This proved that her design was changed following the loss of Titanic.

On 24 May 2009, Carl Spencer, drawn back to his third underwater filming mission of Britannic, died in Greece while filming the wreck for National Geographic as part of a 17 member crew.. He was diving with an Ouroboros rebreather
Rebreather
A rebreather is a type of breathing set that provides a breathing gas containing oxygen and recycled exhaled gas. This recycling reduces the volume of breathing gas used, making a rebreather lighter and more compact than an open-circuit breathing set for the same duration in environments where...

 and is reported to have "begun convulsing" at depth which is a sign
Sign
A sign is something that implies a connection between itself and its object. A natural sign bears a causal relation to its object—for instance, thunder is a sign of storm. A conventional sign signifies by agreement, as a full stop signifies the end of a sentence...

 of oxygen toxicity
Oxygen toxicity
Oxygen toxicity is a condition resulting from the harmful effects of breathing molecular oxygen at elevated partial pressures. It is also known as oxygen toxicity syndrome, oxygen intoxication, and oxygen poisoning...

 although various obituaries instead record decompression sickness
Decompression sickness
Decompression sickness describes a condition arising from dissolved gases coming out of solution into bubbles inside the body on depressurization...

 as the cause of death, commonly known as the bends
Decompression sickness
Decompression sickness describes a condition arising from dissolved gases coming out of solution into bubbles inside the body on depressurization...

, which can be caused by surfacing too quickly from a dive. Carl Spencer, 39, from Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire
Staffordshire
Staffordshire is a landlocked county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. Part of the National Forest lies within its borders...

 and father of two, was an experienced mixed gas and closed circuit rebreather
Rebreather
A rebreather is a type of breathing set that provides a breathing gas containing oxygen and recycled exhaled gas. This recycling reduces the volume of breathing gas used, making a rebreather lighter and more compact than an open-circuit breathing set for the same duration in environments where...

 diver. He was in the team during the exploration of the Titanic wreckage as part of a Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel is an American satellite and cable specialty channel , founded by John Hendricks and distributed by Discovery Communications. It is a publicly traded company run by CEO David Zaslav...

 expedition led by filmmaker James Cameron
James Cameron
James Francis Cameron is a Canadian-American film director, film producer, screenwriter, editor, environmentalist and inventor...

, who directed the blockbuster Titanic
Titanic (1997 film)
Titanic is a 1997 American epic romance and disaster film directed, written, co-produced, and co-edited by James Cameron. A fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson, Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater and Billy Zane as Rose's fiancé, Cal...

.

Pipe organ

A Welte Philharmonic Organ
Welte-Mignon
M. Welte & Sons, Freiburg and New York was a manufacturer of orchestrions, organs and reproducing pianos, established in Vöhrenbach by Michael Welte in 1832.-Overview:...

 was originally planned to be installed on board the Britannic. Because of the outbreak of the First World War, the instrument never made its way over to Belfast.

During the restoration of the Welte-Organ, now in the Swiss National Museum in Seewen
Seewen
Seewen is a municipality in the district of Dorneck in the canton of Solothurn in Switzerland. Baslerweiher is a pond above the village.- Seewen murder case :...

, the restorers detected in April 2007 that the main parts of the instrument were signed by the German organ builders with "Britanik". A photo of a drawing in a company prospectus, found in the Welte-legacy in the Augustiner Museum
Augustiner Museum
The Augustiner Museum is a museum in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. It is currently undergoing an extensive renovation and expansion, the first phase of which ended in 2010.The museum is located in a former monastery which was rebuilt between 1914 and 1923...

 in Freiburg
Freiburg
Freiburg im Breisgau is a city in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. In the extreme south-west of the country, it straddles the Dreisam river, at the foot of the Schlossberg. Historically, the city has acted as the hub of the Breisgau region on the western edge of the Black Forest in the Upper Rhine Plain...

, proved that this was indeed the organ destined for the Britannic.

Film adaptation

The sinking of the Britannic was dramatised in a 2000
Britannic (film)
Britannic is a romantic drama film directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. It stars Edward Atterton and Amanda Ryan as star-crossed lovers on the forgotten sister ship of the , the HMHS Britannic...

 film of the same name that featured Edward Atterton
Edward Atterton
Edward Atterton is an English actor.Atterton's first television role was in an episode of ITV's Agatha Christie's Poirot in 1993. The same year, he was cast in the recurring role of Dr. Alex Taylor in the ITV drama series Medics...

, Amanda Ryan
Amanda Ryan
Amanda Ryan is a British actress who trained at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She is best known for her role on TV series Shameless as Sgt...

 and Jacqueline Bisset
Jacqueline Bisset
Jacqueline Bisset is an English actress. She has been nominated for four Golden Globe Awards and an Emmy Award. She is known for her roles in the films Bullitt , Airport , The Deep , Class , and the TV series Nip/Tuck in 2006...

. The film took several liberties with the events aboard the vessel, depicting the sinking as being caused by an onboard saboteur rather than a naval mine.

Further reading


External links

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